Angel was sending a car with necro-tempered glass to bring Drusilla to a private hospital in Pasadena. He refused to tell Buffy anything else, suggesting instead that he call her in a day or two, once his immediate crisis was over. Buffy had just been about to start fighting him on that when Drusilla snatched the phone away and started babbling about Miss Susan and biting and other equally bizarro things.
Buffy slumped back into her chair and tuned it out. On the plus side, she was pretty sure Angel was still soulful, even with the renewed interest in Drusilla. He wasn’t laughing, for one thing, and he hadn’t called her ‘lover’ or said anything ambiguous that might be a veiled threat. But Angel was most definitely in full avoidance mode, refusing to say anything about why he wanted (needed?) Drusilla at that hospital, and that went firmly into the minus column. Buffy wished she was just a little bit less retired right now. Having Mr Pointy or one of his siblings in her hand would make her feel a whole lot better.
Drusilla handed Buffy the phone, pouting like a scolded child. “He’s calling for you now.”
“Hi. Uh, look, I’m really sorry you got dragged into this. I wasn’t expecting you to be with her….”
“Surprise!” Buffy said brightly. “So when’s this car getting here?”
“Should be any minute,” Angel said. “But look, this isn’t your problem. The driver’s got tranq darts if Dru doesn’t want to play nice.”
Drusilla’s head whipped towards the phone and her upper lip started trembling in the beginning of a snarl.
“You realise she can hear you, right?” Buffy sighed.
“Oh,” Angel said, then in a whisper, “Sorry?”
“I’ll get her in the car,” Buffy said. “But I’m coming, too. I mean, who would turn down help from a slayer?”
“I thought you were retired.” Angel didn’t sound very happy about the offer.
“Consider me back in the game.” As she said the words, Buffy realised they were true. She was sick of being retired. It was boring. Also pointless, possibly pun intended.
Angel put down the bespelled burner phone in a daze. This was really not how he’d expected that to go. At all.
“I can’t believe that actually worked,” Dr Hunter said, awed. “What kind of crazy vampire carries around a battery-dead cell phone?”
The shaman shrugged, unwilling to reveal that the call had gone through without his magical intervention. He had a rep to maintain, after all, and it had still been his idea to try the old number. “Drusilla’s a powerful seer. I figured if we really needed to get a hold of her, she’d have kept it.”
“You were right,” Dr Hunter said, shaking her head. She dug into her pocket and pulled a folded twenty out of a change purse, handing it over. “You sure you’re not a seer yourself?”
The shaman grinned and snatched up the bill before turning to where Angel was sitting. “She’s coming now, right? Today?” He’d been more than willing to help. It was always good to be owed favours from Aurelians, long-lived and even longer-memoried bastards the lot of them. But it was long past time now for him to get back to Honduras.
“Unfortunately,” Angel said, still staring at the phone like it might bite him. “I don’t know what I’m gonna tell her….”
Dr Hunter frowned in confusion. “You’ve been trying to track Drusilla down for weeks. What’s unfortunate?”
Angel suddenly snapped back to his surroundings. “Oh! No. Sorry. Dru’s fine – Buffy’s bringing her.”
“Buffy, slayer of Sunnydale, Buffy?” The shaman asked nervously. “I’m not sure that’s a very good idea.”
Angel gave him a baleful look. “You want to try and convince her of that?”
The shaman thought about it for a half-second. “Not really.”
Dr Hunter was getting excited; she’d never worked with so many celebrities before. “Slayer blood, Angel. It might help.”
“No!” Angel said firmly. “Buffy’s not opening a vein for this. Drusilla can take the risk if she wants to, but not her.” He stared up at the shaman and the doctor. “I didn’t want her to know about any of this.”
Dr Hunter laughed. “Good luck with that. Everything I’ve ever heard about Buffy Summers says she only ever does exactly what she wants to do.”
For some very weird and disturbing reason, Drusilla had decided that today was be-nice-to-Buffy day. When the car arrived in the underground lot, she followed Buffy out like a lamb, got in without any issues, even did up her seatbelt. Of course, she didn’t do it silently, and Buffy was beginning to wonder how Spike hadn’t been as crazy as Drusilla after a century plus of listening to her go on and on. And on.
“Cats make the best poets,” Drusilla said seriously, trying to catch the dust motes glittering in the sunlight.
“Really?” Buffy replied, barely concentrating anymore. “That’s nice.”
“For they are clean and not nosy at all.”
Then again, Drusilla could have spent the ride trying to eat her, so at least Buffy wasn’t missing her stake as much as she might be.
Traffic was still light post-apocalypse, and it didn’t even take half an hour to get to the ‘hospital’, which just looked like a very large, but otherwise unremarkable, house. The car pulled into an attached, fully enclosed, garage, and Buffy and Drusilla got out.
Drusilla spun around a few times, and when this garnered no reaction, stopped, dizzy and confused. “Where’s the red carpet out to greet us? Angel promised me lots of lovely blood.”
The door through to the house opened, and a middle-aged women wearing a white lab coat and sensible shoes stepped through. “I’m Dr Hunter. Welcome to my facility. Please come in, both of you.”
Drusilla dropped a curtsy, perfectly executed and straight out of a PBS drama.
Buffy walked slowly towards the door, her slayer senses going haywire. “What’s in there?”
“It’s a paranormal-friendly hospital,” the doctor said, her welcoming smile becoming steadily less genuine and more ‘customer service’ as Buffy got closer.
Buffy stopped walking.
“It’s been around since the early fifties. A vampire was supposed to have had a hand in creating it, but Angel refuses to confirm or deny his involvement.” Dr Hunter brightened. “Hey, I don’t suppose either of you know one way or the other, do you? There’s a running bet with some of the staff.”
Drusilla shook her head sadly. “We were in Algeria. Or maybe Indochina?” She licked her lips. “It was hot and violent.”
They realised Buffy was still on the other side of the garage, staring at the doctor like she’d sprouted a second head. “You heal sick demons?”
Dr Hunter nodded. “Amongst others. Including slayers these days.” She looked to one side, thoughtful. “I’ve got a Rosita Dawes and a Gail Thomas in at the moment.”
Buffy’s breath caught in her throat. She knew them. Not well. But they were slayers all right.
“Both girls had broken bones that healed badly and needed resetting,” Dr Hunter continued. “I understand it’s a hazard of slayer healing.”
Buffy shivered. “How can they stand it in there?”
Dr Hunter’s friendliness evaporated completely. “You don’t need to be here, Miss Summers.” She gestured towards the car. “He’ll take you anywhere you want to go.”
Drusilla stuck her tongue out in Buffy’s direction, then straightened up and glided past Dr Hunter and into the hospital.
Buffy shook off the feeling of impending doom and stalked towards the door. “Let’s go.”
Angel still had no idea how he’d got to the hospital. All he knew was that there’d been fighting, and fire, and then suddenly he was awake and in nearly unendurable pain. Dr Hunter told him later there’d been weeks when they weren’t sure he’d make it: he’d been barely more than charred bone and sinew when he arrived. His fragile new skin had finally stopped tearing unexpectedly a few days ago, for which he was grateful. That pain had been unlike anything he’d ever experienced before, and he knew pain. Months later, he was still getting used to the idea he’d survived at all. And now he had to gear himself up to see Buffy, or perhaps more for Buffy to see him.
Inside, the house/hospital was a rabbit-warren, renovated to within in inch of its life while leaving the outer shell intact. Drusilla was still skipping along slightly ahead of the other two, once again proving her seer chops by going unerringly in the direction Dr Hunter would have been leading them if she’d been in front. Buffy was hugging her arms around her; hospital stench was one of the few things that still made her feel small and powerless.
“There’s a sanctuary spell in place here,” Dr Hunter said, misunderstanding her discomfort. “No physical violence can take place within these walls.”
“Must make re-breaking bones tough,” Buffy replied grimly, fingers itching for a stake again.
Dr Hunter smiled. “The spell can distinguish intent.”
Drusilla paused where the hallway sprouted a sudden offshoot. She looked longingly down the corridor, and Buffy heard a hissed inhale from Dr Hunter, before Drusilla moved more confidently towards another door.
“What’s down that way?” Buffy asked.
“Neonatal unit,” Dr Hunter said shortly. She gave Drusilla a considering look, then said, “I’ll be back in a minute,” before walking purposefully through the door to Neonatal.
And then Drusilla was opening another door and there was Angel, looking like a completely different vampire. He was in a wheelchair, missing half his muscle mass, and wearing a grey t-shirt, matching sweats and what looked suspiciously like fluffy slippers. His vamp face was to the front, and his skin was slick and shiny and mottled all over, the burn scars making his vamp-blunted features even flatter. He was also staring up at Drusilla with something that looked a lot like relief. He hadn’t noticed yet that Buffy was there.
Buffy stumbled back from the doorway and leaned against the wall just outside, one hand over her mouth. She’d been prepared for him to be injured, but not this. Angel had always been so solid and strong, ready to take on anything. She couldn’t reconcile the mental image of Angel she carried around with her to the diminished wraith in the room. He was also just a little bit ridiculous, like an extra on one of the Star Treks with a too-cheap prosthetics job who’d forgotten to put on the right shoes. She needed a moment to collect herself.
“My Angel,” Buffy heard Drusilla coo.
“Drusilla,” Angel replied, far more warmly than Buffy expected.
She could hear them go on talking after that, but their voices had dropped too low for her to make out the words. By the time Buffy was ready to go in, Drusilla was sitting on Angel’s lap, twined around him like a vine, and whispering in his ear. It was the sort of thing that once would have made Buffy writhe in anxious jealousy, even though there was no sexual vibe to their embrace.
As she stepped all the way into the room, she finally saw their faces. Drusilla’s had shifted, too, now. But the big shocker was Angel. He looked peaceful, and that shook Buffy to her core. She could practically count on one hand the number of times she’d seen Angel vamped out, but she’d never once seen him so at peace. She’d certainly never been able to give that to him. And although it hurt her pride more than a little, mostly Buffy just felt glad someone could bring him peace, even if it was Drusilla.
“Hey,” Buffy said softly.
Drusilla waved at her, her cheery grin turned lightly menacing in game-face.
Angel’s face slipped immediately to human at the sound of her voice, and that sense of peacefulness vanished right along with his bumpies. It looked like it was agony to shift, and Buffy was confronted with the fact that Angel was more relaxed around crazy, soulless Drusilla than he was around her. Suddenly, Buffy felt their age difference in a way she never had before. She’d known Angel for a third of her not-quite twenty-four years. Drusilla’d lived with him for something like forty years, and known him for a hundred more.
“What he won’t tell you,” Dr Hunter said, coming in behind Buffy and making her jump. “Is that he’s not healing anywhere near as quickly as he should be.” She looked back and forth between Buffy and Drusilla. “In the absence of sire’s or grand-sire’s blood, we hoped other family might help.”
“I am Grandmummy’s mummy, after all,” Drusilla lisped coquettishly around her fangs.
“Bet slayer blood would help, too,” Buffy said, both voice and face completely neutral.
“I think so,” Dr Hunter said calmly. “You can even call it doctor’s orders, if you like.”
“No,” Angel said, quickly and firmly.
Drusilla’s expression went dark and sullen.
Buffy shrugged. “Your call.” She was relieved he didn’t want her to do it, but also guilt-ridden for feeling that way. She shivered, wishing she’d never come. Angel hadn’t wanted her to see him weak, and maybe he’d been right. She didn’t know how to comfort him, and she felt not only useless but voyeuristic in the face of Drusilla, who brought him peace when Buffy was quietly freaking out in the hallway.
“Thank you,” Angel said.
His cheek lay against Drusilla’s neck, and she was stroking along his jaw line and whispering in his ear again. Buffy realised suddenly that they were waiting for her to leave. Even now, here, in the state he was in, Angel didn’t want her to see him make himself feel better, just because it was too vampire-like.
Drusilla turned suddenly, staring straight into Buffy’s eyes. Buffy forgot to look away, to stay safe. Drusilla had behaved so well all afternoon, and now, seeing how she was with Angel … Buffy let her guard down. But just as she’d decided that slayer blood via Drusilla was what Angel was going to get, whether he liked it or not, Drusilla gave her a shy little girl smile, the twin of Spike’s, and said, “Send him our love, will you ducks?”
Buffy only just caught the frozen look on Angel’s face. “What are you hiding from me?”
Drusilla turned back to Angel, seemingly forgetting all about Buffy again.
Dr Hunter smiled, not very kindly. “I warned you, Angel.”
Angel closed his eyes, sinking even further into Drusilla’s embrace. “Spike’s here, too,” he said gruffly.
Buffy could suddenly hear her blood pounding through her ears, so loud she almost didn’t hear Dr Hunter promise to take her to him. The doctor took Buffy’s arm gently in hers and led her away, shutting the door firmly behind them. Buffy just let her, struggling just to walk under her own steam.
It had never once occurred to her even to hope Spike was alive. Her ideal scenario had been to find out how he’d died and maybe why the bastard hadn’t called her.
“Whoever brought them here, they’re very lucky,” Dr Hunter said, more relaxed now that Buffy knew about the other vampire. “Neither one would have survived without medical intervention.”
“Is he – how is he?” Buffy’s throat was so dry, she was amazed the words came out at all.
Dr Hunter gave her a look full of sympathy. Joyce’s oncologist had greeted Buffy with that face once. Buffy’s heart jumped to her throat.
“With Drusilla here? Better, probably,” the doctor said. “Sire’s blood is powerful, and there’s a few more rituals we can try now.”
Buffy nodded like the curative properties of sire’s blood was something she thought about every day.
“It’s a bonus if she can help Angel, too.”
Buffy stopped walking. “Angel brought her here for Spike?”
Dr Hunter was looking at her like she was crazy. “Of course he did.” She shook her head. “Angel would do almost anything to keep Spike alive. It’s all I can do to keep him from cutting open a vein every time he comes in here.”
As they started walking again, Dr Hunter considered asking Buffy to help out with the other running bet half the doctors were in on: the exact nature of Angel and Spike’s relationship. But then they arrived and she just opened the door.
Having seen Angel, Buffy thought she was prepared. She wasn’t.
Spike had not burned like Angel had, which was about the only thing he had going for him. Instead, he was broken. He was lying lifeless on a bed wearing a hospital gown, tubes through his nose feeding him a steady stream of blood, but he wasn’t even vamped out. One hand was hooked up to something Buffy hoped were truly superior painkillers, because Spike was barely more than skin and bone, and not even so much with the bone. Under the blankets, she could see his right leg was only about an inch thick between his still-mostly-there hip and foot with a half-size hill where his knee ought to be. His rib-cage hung drunk and uneven, and one of his cheeks was just gone. So many bones had been ground to powder and only the thinnest of skin sacks was holding him together in human-shape.
Buffy’s feet took her to his bedside without her even realising it, before she’d even fully looked him over. She sank down in the visitor’s chair, her knees rubbing up against the metal bars of his bed and stared at the body in front of her, more damaged than she’d ever seen it. It was still Spike. He’d never hidden any part of himself from her: weak or strong, cowardly or brave, cruel or kind. There was nothing to shock or frighten her here.
“His hands are okay now,” Dr Hunter said softly. “You won’t hurt him.”
That was when Buffy noticed her hands were hovering over his. She let her fingertips trace gently along the length of his right hand – the one without the tube in it. She’d never thought hands could get so thin; his fingers seemed impossibly long now. And cold, even for a vampire. She interlaced their fingers and squeezed tight. For a moment, she could almost see the flames again.
“All his energy’s gone to re-growing the pulverised bones.” Dr Hunter fiddled with one of the machines for a moment. “There’s not much left to keep the rest of him going.” She paused. “He’s still a lot better than he was, though.”
Buffy fingered the thin blanket lying over Spike and said, “Can you make him warmer? More blankets or something?”
Dr Hunter nodded. “Of course.”
“He hates being cold,” Buffy added quietly.
Dr Hunter smiled at her. “Good to know.” She turned to leave, presumably to bring back warmth.
Dr Hunter stopped in the doorway.
“Can you bring back the stuff to….” Buffy gestured at the bag of blood hanging next to Spike’s bed and then at herself.
Dr Hunter was surprised. “You didn’t seem too keen on a transfusion before.”
“This is different,” Buffy said firmly. Spike could accept a gift freely given.
Dr Hunter nodded, then left the room.
Still clasping his hand in hers, Buffy wondered how she would have reacted if Spike had been awake. Would they have kissed? Probably. She almost definitely would have hit him, although Buffy didn’t like thinking that about herself. It might not have been any worse than a slap, but she’d never expected him to leave her, and part of her hated him for finally conforming. She would have yelled at him, no question. But she also knew, with absolute certainty, that she would have held him afterwards.
She’d only admitted today, for the first time, how much she missed him. Today was also the first time she’d talked about him since he died. It had been surprisingly cathartic, doing that with Drusilla and Harmony. Weird. But cathartic. She’d been ready to try with him, at the end, to see what ‘us’ might look like. But that was a year and a half ago. She had no idea what either of them might want now.
Buffy leaned over Spike, as close as she dared, to tell him what she did know. “I love you,” she said softly. “And I’m not leaving until you believe me this time.”
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November 20, 2020 18:57